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Full text of "The Homes of America. Some New England Houses. I"

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THE ART JOURNAL. 



loi 



THE HOMES OF AMERICA. 



SOME NEW ENGLAND HOUSES. 



I. 



CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, has a threefold attraction. It 
is the seat of the oldest and most renowned of American 
universities ; it is notable for its many beautiful and historic resi- 
dences ; and it is the home of a number of men of letters of world- 
wide celebrity. To these features it adds that of a busy and 



thrifty suburban city, with a large, active population, and many 
manufactories and industries of various kinds. Cambridge, in- 
deed, affords but little variety in landscape scenery. It stands 
upon a broad plain, scarcely varied by so much as a hillock or 
a slope ; through the plain flows the river Charles, at this point 






,,S ;V^>^:,|^^ 




/Residence of Mr. H. W. Longfelloiv, Cambridge, 



an open, commonplace stream, its banks unadorned by trees 
or shrubs, but farther up picturesque, winding, and umbra- 
geous. On the side towards Boston, Cambridge finds its limit 
at that arm of the sea which nearly surrounds (or formeriy 
did) the larger city, called the *' Back Bay ; " and the suburb 
is connected with the capital by a long bridge across its 
waters. The jaunt to Cambridge by horse-car (the only mode 
of conveyance by which it can be easily reached) has many 
interesting features. Descending Bowdoin Hill and passing 
over the bridge, one catches extensive and varied views of 
Boston and its environs. Behind rises the gradual eminence 
on whose summit appears the gilded dome of the State-House; the 
sides of the hill are thickly crowded by tall brick mansions, inter- 
spersed with church spires and an occasional factory-chimney; to 
the right stretches the city of Chariestown, with its monument on 
Bunker Hill, its jail, and its group of navy-yard buildings ; on the 
left, the most agreeable prospect of all, are to be espied ranges of 



graceful hills beyond the bay, covered in summer with an Eng- 
lish-like luxuriance of deep-green foliage, dotted with elegant and 
cosy residences ; and at their feet the picturesque suburbs of Brigh- 
ton, Brookline, and Roxbury. The first impression of the univer- 
sity town is not an especially pleasant one. At first appear strag- 
gling wooden buildings, barns, stables, shops, low-class hotels and 



I02 



THE ART JOURNAL. 



artisans' dwellings ; along the street, a few sickly-looking trees, 
dust-covered ; a general aspect of griminess and small trade every- 
where. Then a more thickly-settled quarter is reached ; the build- 
ings are larger and neater; the street is broader and more shady; 



and soon tasteful residences, with neat gardens and lawns, and 
pretty, shaded avenues, come into view. A sudden curve reveals 
the university grounds and edifices. As you pass along, you see 
in succession the beautiful Gothic Library with its granite pinnacles. 







* Elmwood^'' Residence of Mr. James Russell Lowell ^ 



the great Hall ot Recitation, the Museum of Anatomy, and, in the 
background, the Appleton Chapel ; while here and there are scat- 
tered over the elm-shaded spaces, with little regard to order or 
symmetry, the ancient dormitories which formed the original group 
of university buildings, and the more modern dormitories with 
which wealthy citizens have endowed the institution. 

It is about half a mile west of the university that the old his- 
toric house stands which has for many years been the residence 
of America's most popular poet, and it is reached by Brattle Street, 
which is the highway between the square and the renowned ceme- 
tery of Mount Auburn. In his pretty domestic poem, ''The Old 
Clock on the Stairs,** Longfellow alludes to his home as follows : 

*' Somewhat back from the village street, 
Stands the old-fashioned country-seat." 

Thoroughly old-fashioned it is ; withal, there are a certain old- 
time stateliness and sedateness about its exterior, which recall the 
period when it was the residence of colonial patricians. It seems 
rather to belong to days when full-bottomed wigs and ruffles were 
the fashion, than to these pushing times of tweed and broadcloth. 
The house, standing at some distance from the street, fronts to 
the south, and overlooks the river Charles, about a quarter of a 
mile distant. It is of wood, substantial, square, unpretending, with 
a front of some fifty feet, and two stories in height. On either side 
are spacious covered piazzas, one of which — that towards the east 
—is seen in the illustration. The house is painted yellow, which is 



relieved, however, by the white decorations of the doors and win- 
dows. It stands in the midst of a plot of some ten acres of 
ground. A low stone-wall separates the estate from the street; 
and looking over this the passer-by may survey at leisure the resi- 
dence of the poet and its surroundings. On either side of the 
walk, from the gate to the house, is a neatly-kept lawn ; at the 
sides, and in the rear of the mansion, are clumps of tall, wide- 
spreading elms ; while many lilac-bushes, in groups, and ranged 
along the boundaries of the plot, vary the scene. 

The old " Craigie House," as it used to be called by the Cam- 
bridge people (who have now got accustomed to calling it " the 
Longfellow House "), would be an interesting relic, had the poet 
never chanced to take board there, fancy it as a residence, and 
finally purchase it. It was erected over a century and a half 
ago, by a certain colonial aristocrat — Colonel John Vassal — who, 
having made a fortune in the West India trade, settled down in 
Cambridge to enjoy his fine income, and to exercise a lordly and 
gracious hospitality. Dying in 1747, Colonel Vassal was laid with 
due pomp in the old Cambridge churchyard, where he reposes, and 
where his moss-grown tombstone may still be seen. His son suc- 
ceeded to the estate, and was living in much the same patrician style 
as his father, in the house on Brattle Street, when the Revolution 



THE ART JOURNAL. 



103 



broke out. Like many others of the old and wealthy colonial fami- 
lies, that of John Vassal the younger could not join the patriots in 
their "treason " to the " true king." He remained staunch in his 
devotion to royalty ; and, finding the vicinity of Boston rather too 
hot for him in the troublous times of 1775, he shut up his house, 
and made haste to leave the country. The colony promptly con- 
fiscated his residence ; and now it received its chief historic dis- 
tinction. The spacious old rooms which had been the scene of so 
many fine receptions and ceremonious old-time banquets, where 
many a time and oft the Massachusetts nabobs and Cambridge 
pundits had risen and held high their glasses to the toast of " His 
Majesty," and which were afterwards to be consecrated to the 
serener and nobler uses of poesy, became for a time the abode of 
the most illustrious of Americans. After the battle of Bunker 
Hill, the house of John Vassal was assigned to General Washing- 
ton as his headquarters during the siege of Boston. The front 
east room on the first floor, that on the right on entering, was used 
by the great commander-in-chief as his council and sitting room ; 
the apartment just over it was his bedchamber ; that in the rear 
was the quarters of his aides ; the front-room, just across the 
quaint old entry, was Mrs. Washington's drawing and reception 
room. It was thence that Washington sent out, every morn- 
ing, his orders for the day ; at that gate he mounted his white 
horse, to proceed to inspect the colonial defences around Boston ; 
and it was under an elm in Cambridge, not far from the Vassal 
mansion, that he received his commission as commander-in-chief. 
The poet, coming into possession of the house sixty or more years 
afterwards, was not likely to forget, or to leave unembalmed by 
verse, the heroic memories of its earlier history ; and thus, in his 
dainty poem " To a Child," alludes to its occupation by the patriot 
chief : 

" Once, ah ! once, within these walls. 
One whom memory oft recalls, 
The Father of his Country dwelt, 



And yonder meadows broad and damp 
The fires of the besieging camp 

Encircled with a burning belt. 
Up and down these echoing stairs, 
Heavy with the weight of cares, 

Sounded his majestic tread ; 
Yes, within this very room 
Sat he in those hours of gloom, 

Weary both in heart and head." 

When peace had returned, with its benison of independence, the 
old mansion came into the hands of a rich merchant named Tracy, 
who ''gave banquets to a hundred guests at once," and soon came 
to grief by reason of his extravagance. Then Andrew Craigie, 
apothecary-general of the army, bought the place, and is said to 
have once entertained epigrammatic old Talleyrand within its 
walls ; it was from him that the house was called the " Craigie 
House." It was from Craigie's widow that Longfellow purchased 
it ; and he has now lived in it, first as a lodger of the widow's (who 
had, among other lodgers, Everett, Sparks, and Worcester), then 
as owner, for more than forty years. The poet occupies as his 
study the room which Washington used for the same purpose ; 
this communicates with a long, spacious room in the rear, which 
is the library, amply provided with handsome bookcases and a 
wealth of various lore. The portraits of many of his literary and 
personal friends — Hawthorne, Lowell, Emerson, Sumner — adorn 
his study. Directly over the study is the room which, having 
served as Washington's bedchamber, was the first occupied by 
Longfellow when, as a young college professor, he went to lodge 
with Mrs. Craigie. 

The neighbourhood in which the Longfellow mansion stands is 
full of interest, as including the present or former residences of 
many literary and other notabilities. In the adjoining plain white 
structure lived, for a long time, the gentle and genial lexicographer, 
Worcester ; a little farther on resided the widow of Wheaton, who 
wrote the standard book on international law; nearly opposite 



.;*^" 










Residence of Mr. Charles Francis Adams, Quincy. 



Mrs. Wheaton resided ex-President Walker, of Harvard ; and the 
house of Charles C. Little, the Boston publisher, was not distant. 

Passing along up umbrageous Brattle Street in the direction of 
Mount Auburn, you come upon a cool and picturesque little ave- 
nue, scarcely more than a rustic lane, branching off to the left from 



the highway. The aspect here is almost rustic. The avenue is 
bordered with patches of turf, and narrow, irregular paths run in 
under the trees along its sides, while hedges separate the road from 
the private estates beyond. There are but few houses on the 
avenue ; some are modern, some old-fashioned. There is but one 



I04 



THE ART JOURNAL. 







large domain on the right. A miniature forest is scattered about 
the lawn, some noble elms, some fruit-trees, and shrubs ; vegetable 
patches are seen beyond ; a high, well-kept hedge separates the 
expanse from the road. So thickly, indeed, is the place hemmed 
in, in summer, that you can scarcely discern the large, square, 
aristocratic-looking mansion, built in the substantial and stately 
style of the last century, which stands on gently-rising ground at 
considerable distance back from the avenue. A high gate leads to 
a long, broad walk, on either side bordered by shrubs and flowers ; 
at the back and on either side of the house (which looks as sturdy 
and solid as if it had just been built) are orchards, gardens, and 
shrubberies. There is both a snug and a dreamy air about the 
place ; it looks even more like the ideal abode of reverie and poetry 
than the home of Longfellow. And these, indeed, have long been 
its uses, the vocation of its owner and occupant ; for in this old 
house was born, brought up, and has always lived, another of 
America's greatest poets, James Russell Lowell. Never, indeed, 
was poet more lovingly content with his home. Lowell has sung 
the praises of the ancestral domain and its picturesque surround- 
ings in some of his most captivating strains. In *'An Indian 
Summer Reverie " he portrays the gay and careless tanglement of 
shrubbery just by his house : 

'' O'er yon low wall, which guards our unkempt zone, 
Where vines, and weeds, and scrub-oaks intertwine 

Safe from the plough, whose rough, discordant stone 
Is massed to one soft grey by lichens fine, 

The tangled blackberry, crossed and recrossed, weaves 

A pnckly network of ensanguined leaves ; 

Hard by, with coral beads, the prim black-alders shine." 

He, too, like his brother poet Longfellow, catches charming 



Residence of Mr, John Quincy Adams^ Quincy, 



glimpses oi the river Charles across the marshes ; and they move 
him to say : 

*' Below, the Charles — a stripe of nether sky, 
Now hid by rounded apple-trees between. 

Whose gaps the misplaced sail sweeps bellying by, 
Now flickering golden through a woodland screen, 

Then spreading out at his next turn beyond, 

A silver circle like an inland pond- 
Slips seaward silently through marshes purple and green." 

As one approaches the house by the broad walk, a very tall and 
ancient elm is passed — the pride of the poet, the centennial of 
which he has thus quaintly celebrated in verse : 

'' And one tall elm, this hundredth year. 
Doge of our leafy Venice here, 
Who, with an annual ring, doth wed 
The blue Adriatic overhead ; 
Shadows, with his palatial mass, 
The deep canal of flowing grass, 
"Where glow the dandelions sparse, 
For shadows of Italian stars," 

Broad stone steps lead up to the portal, within which is a glass 
door, giving a glimpse of the cosy hall beyond. . The interior of 
'' Elm wood " has all the old-fashioned snugness and sphere of 
comfort to be found in houses of its age and style. On the right, 
as you enter, is the drawing-room, furnished in the solid and rich 
fashion of the last century, and with many ornaments chosen with 
a poet*s taste. Passing along the hall to the rear, Lowell's study 
and favourite ** den " is reached on the left. It is a fascinating 
room, with its big, open fireplace and its spacious chimney, where 
big logs blaze on winter nights ; its windows shaded, and looking 
out upon the shrubberies and garden ; its bronzes, vases, relics of 
the civil war, and many literary and artistic curiosities ; its air ot 
confusion ; its tables and waiting-desks littered with books, papers, 
pamphlets, meerschaum-pipes, pens, and little conveniences; its 
big easy-chair, from which many an eloquent discourse has pro- 



THE ART JOURNAL. 



los 



ceeded to familiar friends, on politics, letters, and Art ; and its 
book-shelves, choked up with rich and various lore. Another 
smaller study opens from this, with desks, books, and portraits— a 
room but little used. 

" Elmwood " was built somewhat over a century ago by Thomas 
Oliver, the last royal Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts Colony, 
who lived in it till the Revolution broke out. Like Colonel Vassal 
at the house now occupied by Longfellow, Governor Oliver deserted 
his mansion after Lexington, and it became the residence of El- 
bridge Gerry, afterward a signer of the Declaration of Indepen- 
dence, and Vice-President of the United States. On Mr. Gerry's 
death it was purchased by the Rev. Charles Lowell, the poet's 
father, who refitted and restored it, and made numerous important 
additions to it. It was he who planted many of the stately elms 
that are now the chief adornments of the estate, and from which 
he gave it its present name. Here the poet himself was born in 
1819, and he has never had any other home. 

Quincy, noted for " its granite and its Adamses," is distant from 
Boston about nine miles, and is reached by a pleasant railway- 
jaunt, through the suburbs of Dorchester, Savin Hill, and Harri- 
son Square, and along the south shore of Massachusetts Bay, of 
about half an hour. But for its granite-quarries, which are dis- 
tinctly seen as the station is approached, and which have brought 
a labouring population and some bustle into the neighbourhood, 
Quincy would be a typical, old-fashioned, quiet, comfortable New 
England town. Being one of the early settlements of the " Old 
Colony " — for the immediate descendants of the Pilgrims spread, 
not late in the seventeenth century, as far north as this — it has 
many very old mansions. One of these, now owned and occupied 
by Hon. Peter Butler, is said to be the very oldest dwelling-house 
in the New England States. Quincy presents, indeed, all the varie- 
ties of household architecture from the time of the wars of King 
Philip to the present day. You will find the big, plain, square 
mansion of the colonial nabob, with its heavy fagades and quaint 
window decorations, cheek-by-jowl with dainty French cottages 
and neat houses in the cosier English style. One of the most in- 
teresting of Quincy's historical mementos is its ancient grave- 
yard, containing, as it does, not only the resting-places of two 
Presidents of the United States, but tombstones bearing names 
familiar on the rolls of the Mayflower and its succeeding sister 
ships, and other names well known afterward in the stirring events 
of early New England history. 

The chief interest of Quincy, however, is the fact that it is, as it 
has been for many generations, the home of one of the most illus- 
trious and intellectually vigorous of American families. The Ad- 
amses have always been, as far as a family in a republic can be, 
its lords of the manor. The ancestors of the Presidents settled 
at Braintree, which name long included what is now called Quincy 
within a generation after the landing of the Pilgrims. It need not 
be forgotten that John Alden, embalmed in fame by Longfellow's 
"Courtship of Miles Standish," was the maternal ancestor of the 
first President Adams ; and the family may thus claim that they 
inherit from the sturdy stock of the Pilgrim settlers. The house, 
indeed, in which John Adams was born — a small, very ancient, 
and now somewhat dilapidated dwelling — is still standing in 
Quincy, though at some distance from the present seat of the 
family. It was while John Adams was abroad in England, as 
American envoy to the court of George III., that the residence 
. now occupied in summer by his grandson and representative came 
into his possession. This house — portrayed in the accompanying 
illustration — was built in or about the year 1725 by a Mr. Vassal, 
a rich English planter, who had made a fortune in Jamaica, and 
came hither to Braintree to enjoy his wealth and play the rural 
nabob in the young colony. It is an interesting coincidence that 
the house occupied by Longfellow and that of the Adamses were 
built and lived in by two men of the same name, though we do 
not know whether the Cambridge Vassal was a relative of him of 
Quincy. The latter resided but a short time on his new estate, 
which seems to have been purchased by a Mr. Borland, who had 
married Mr. Vassal's daughter. It is not unlikely that Mr. Bor- 
land, like Colonel Vassal of Cambridge, was a Tory and a loyalist ; 
for we find him abandoning his fine residence at Quincy soon after 



the outbreak of the Revolution. Nothing is told of the house 
during the war ; but soon after peace was concluded it was put 
into the market, and John Adams, then minister in London, came 
into possession of it by the action of his agents at home. It was 
thither that he returned to settle down after his residence in Eng- 
land, and thence that he went to take his place, first as Vice-Presi- 
dent, then as President of the United States ; and it was in one of 
the rooms of this old Vassal mansion that the aged statesman 
passed away, just fifty years to a day after he had signed the 
Declaration of Independence, at the age of ninety-two. Mr. Ad- 
ams made considerable alterations in the house after it came into 
his possession. It was enlarged, and during the period when it 
was the residence of John Quincy Adams further additions were 
twice made. The " old man eloquent " inserted a provision in his 
will, enjoining it upon his son and heir to build yet another wing, 
in order to accommodate the noble library he had accumulated 
during his long and studious as well as active life. Other improve- 
ments have been made on the estate from time to time. There 
used to be a large barn and a stable on the road near the house, 
which gave it a more farm-like and rustic appearance than it now 
has, and there was a shed in the rear. But the railway and the 
exigencies of the growing and thriving town have successively cut 
in upon them and swept them away. Among the venerable ob- 
jects ot interest are some pear-trees, still standing in the garden, 
which once upon a time yielded fruit to the table of the elder Ad- 
ams before his accession to the presidency. Though Charles 
Francis Adams himself was born in Boston, we believe that most of 
his able sons, who maintain the renown of the family for intellect- 
ual vigour, first saw the light in this fine old mansion. It is inte- 
resting, moreover, for the number of famous men, now gone, who 
have been guests beneath its ample and hospitable roof. Han- 
cock and Samuel Adams, and heroes of the Revolution and the 
period immediately after, must have often entered its hall, and sat 
discoursing the great events of the time before its roaring fires. 
The old mansion stands on. a gentle elevation, on the right of the 
railway-track, approaching Quincy from Boston. Fine old oaks 
and elms surround it : it is long and spacious, with a broad shaded 
verandah in front and a smaller one at the side. The hall is wide 
and cosy, and the rooms, though old-fashioned, are large and com- 
fortable, and provided with the cheerful adornment of big fireplaces 
and chimneys. 

In striking contrast with the paternal residence is the new and 
almost castle-like abode of Hon. John Quincy Adams, the eldest 
son and heir of the present representative of the family. The do- 
main on which it is built, indeed, is a part of the Adams estate, 
having been in possession of the family for more than a century 
and a half. It was formerly a large farm, owned by John Quincy, 
the maternal ancestor at four removes of the present occupant. 
This ancestor built a house upon the hill in the early part of the 
last century, which remained standing until late in the present one. 
Many of the lime-trees which John Quincy set out more than a 
century ago still remain, and are in a flourishing condition. The 
present mansion, built within a few years, stands on Mount Wal- 
laston, which forms the eastern portion of the town of Quincy. 
It is an elegant and showy edifice of the modern style, with a 
square brick tower surmounted by a wooden conical roof, the main 
portion of the house being also of wood. Parasites are already 
creeping up the picturesque tower ; in every corner are pleasant 
little porches, affording fine views of the surrounding country ; and 
the decorations of the interior are, while simple, tasteful and in ac- 
cordance with the most approved modern ideas. Taking architec- 
ture as a symbol, we cannot see these two houses of the elder 
Adamses and the younger Adams without observing how graphi- 
cally they represent the contrast between the venerable past and 
the bright and cheerful present. Few sites near Boston are more 
picturesque than that whereon stands the house of Mr. J. Q. Ad- 
ams. It overlooks Boston Harbour and the marshes and mlets of 
the South Boston flats. In the eastern distance gleams the State- 
House dome, surrounded by the serried masses of city dwellmgs ; 
while in every direction except that towards the sea are lovely 
prospects of park, foHage, and suburban residences, neat, thrivmg 
villages, and verdant hills and fields. 



158